Have you thought about what you'd want your obituary to say about you? I hadn't until I was recently asked to write an article on the topic. I enjoy a challenge and thought, "why not?" How would I want my life to be summed up after I'm gone? As I considered this article, the natural starting point for me was with my parents' obituaries, since I wrote them.
Each of my parents suffered a long slow decline, so I had plenty of time to ponder their lives and the words that could encapsulate who they were.
Dad's obituary was fairly easy to compose, though I needed to dig for some documentation. He'd gotten international awards in public health and had educational and work-related information that could have filled pages, but he was a humble man who rarely talked about work related accomplishments. Many people benefited from his kind heart and his generous personality, but the most important part of his life was his family. He was very proud of us all and he often told us so.
Mom's obituary was more difficult to write. I'd seen many obituaries where a wife was remembered mainly as an appendage of her husband. I was determined that Mom's obituary and funeral would be about her as a person, not principally as Dad's wife, and I believe I succeeded. I listed her expansive volunteer projects as well as her tireless work with children and told of her many years of caring for her elders.
For both of my parents, other accomplishments aside, it was their caring hearts and their work to help others that are their lasting legacy. I hope that I will deserve similar words when my time comes.
What would I like to be said about me?
I've been a drugstore store clerk, a military librarian, a university library staff member, a stay-at-home mom, a humor columnist, a news researcher/librarian, an author and an eldercare columnist. I've also been a caregiver for many people, elders and children alike. I imagine one day some of those things will be mentioned in my obituary. But, in the end, what matters most to me? What, ideally, would I want people to write about me after I'm gone?
I'd like to have them be able to honestly write that, "She liked to help people have a better life. She took time to listen. She didn't judge others who thought differently than she did. She gave people room to make mistakes. She didn't hold grudges. She loved her children unconditionally. She allowed people room to become who they would become and cheered them on in the process. She forgave and hoped to be forgiven."
The reality is that while these are worthy goals, they are goals that I'll never completely master. But having these ideals gives me something to reach for as I live out my life. The most important goal, and one I do hope to master, is simply caring about others and doing what I can to make their journey a little easier. If my obituary says that I succeeded in this one way, then I'm satisfied.
What about you?
The word from hospice personnel and others who help dying folks is that few people say, at the end of their lives, that they wish they'd spent more time at work. What these dying people do say is that they wish they'd loved more easily, spent more time with those they love, forgiven others more quickly and that they hope they've been forgiven for being a human being who has made mistakes.
What would you want your obituary to convey? That you were a great attorney? A terrific CNA? Of course you'd want your work accomplishments mentioned in your obituary, along with awards and praise. But I believe that you'd also want people to know that you were grateful for the chance to help others through your work and/or your personal life. Most people feel good when they've given another person a helping hand.
Because of this, my fellow caregivers, you should all have laudatory obituaries as tributes to your kind hearts and your efforts to care for those you love once they can no longer care for themselves. There are many ways to care about others. No one way is right for all. But if you can say you made even one life better, then your legacy is already set. It just needs to be put into the words of an obituary written by your loved ones when your life, at a time hopefully in the distant future, comes to an end.
Author, columnist and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack wrote "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories" and is the moderator of the AgingCare.com community. Read her full biography